Rootable is a donation-based, fair exchange software that provides food distribution logistics to any community-based group, regardless of ability to pay. In exchange for software, an organization contributes time, skills, money, or some combination of the three. With this funding, we explored how Web Monetization might support funding of Rootable and the organizations that use it.
"Food Justice is communities exercising their right to grow, sell and eat healthy food" - justfood.org
Fair exchange software is an important option when thinking about Food Justice. While national food assistance programs are life-saving institutions for people experiencing food insecurity, they are often barriered, stressful, inequitable, and inconvenient for users. Shame, stigma, and stress of using these traditional systems also increase health disparities. Smaller, community-based organizations reduce barriers to food access, like transportation, paperwork, and stigma. Rootable supports organizations with the relationships and local knowledge to improve food access. Those organizations should have access to tools that help them organize around eating healthy food. At the same time, software is expensive to build and maintain. In the past, we've gotten by with volunteer developers. But, we've learned the importance of compensated, dedicated development.
I won't go into the ins and outs of funding nonprofits, you're welcome to read more about it here and here. For many different reasons, we are interested in earned-income models. We see the potential in using Web Monetization to support those models.
Before we concluded that Web Monetization was a viable option, we considered what content we could provide. Community-based nonprofits struggle with educating the public on their mission and services. We see an opportunity to support this goal through automatic content generation based on the data produced by their daily logistics. Here's our research to back that up and our brainstorming session around content.
The Food Rescue Alliance (FRA) is a network of food rescue initiatives working towards a more just and less wasteful food system, locally and regionally. It's the organization that created Rootable. FRA facilitates the development and growth of community-based food rescues. Our network believes that healthy food access and food waste are best addressed at the local level by member organizations that hold strong intra-community relationships. FRA members share resources, best practices, and innovative approaches toward actualizing common goals and values. The network's members redistribute an average of 20,000,000+ pounds of food to 600,000+ low-income individuals annually.
We concluded that Web Monetization also has the potential for funding FRA member organizations. Influenced by Coil & Colorado Gives Day, we imagine an implementation with the following technical parts:
- A platform where interested individual donors (users) could view the offerings of various FRA members and connect their wallets.
- A browser extension that would be installed by the interested donors. The browser extension would automatically detect when a user was on an FRA member webpage.
- For an FRA member, the platform would host web pages linked to the Web Monetization API. These web pages could host engaging digital content (e.g., resources, videos, games, and live streams for fundraising). FRA members could also link to their own hosted web apps and resources. By utilizing Web Monetization, users can connect their payment stream from the browser extension.
Read a more detailed account here.
Our team came from many different perspectives, and we spent a lot of time learning from one another:
- Casey Hunt & Aarjav Chauhan, two masters students from the University of Colorado Boulder's ATLAS Institute. They performed the majority of the research into how web monetization might be applied to nonprofit software.
- Hayden Dansky, executive director of Boulder Food Rescue. They provided context into how nonprofits get funded.
- Becks Boone, product manager of Rootable. They attempted to guide the conversations and research.
- Food Rescue Alliance member organizations. They contributed to the conversation as needed.
We found the challenges of coming together on a new topic, from different contexts, during Covid & remote meetings tough to navigate at times. It slowed us down, and we needed twice the amount of time we initially estimated to complete the project.
We successfully completed our main objective, produce a white paper that answered the following questions:
- Will Web Monetization help nonprofits diversify funding for critical logistics software?
- What are possible models?
- How might nonprofits implement Web Monetization?
The last question was meant to get into the implementation details, which we did not have the opportunity to explore in-depth.
- Weekly Meetings to share insights.
- Understanding the nuts & bolts of web monetization.
- Literature review of nonprofit funding models.
- Literature review of social enterprise models.
- Domain expert perspective on nonprofit funding models.
- Brainstorm digital content from daily logistics data.
- In-depth examination of funding models & web monetization.
- Interview FRA member organizations to understand needs.
- White paper summarizing research.
We did not have a marketing budget and have not yet communicated about our work beyond the web monetization community. However, we have some ideas. But, we will need to find the organizational capacity to make our learnings digestible to those unfamiliar with the topic. Here are some thoughts:
- Sharing work through university channels.
- Write a post about how fundings structures/organizational * structures reflect institutional power and how FRA is trying to change that, using web monetization as a case study.
- FRA Social Media: steps of the process, Web Monetization 101, link to Web Monetization community blog posts, FRA member workshop
- Follow up with FRA members who we interviewed to let them know how the project went
The realm of possibilities from different members of our team:
- Build a Coil alternative to address the issues we would need/overcome the challenges we face.
- Engage in broader research with the nonprofit community about potential use cases of Web Monetization:
- Collaborate on Coil alternative?
- Explore how Web Monetization makes the transfer of grants/funds to International organizations more transparent/easier.
- Build prototypes of solutions proposed:
- Coil/Colorado Gives Day inspired platform.
- Content: Games, Data Visualizations, Maps, educative materials, etc
Before we implement Web Monetization, we need to flesh out our content. Short-term next steps:
- Apply for art grants to implement digital art content generated from data.
- Create a plain-language summation of our work.
- Share our work with FRA member organizations & platform co-op owners.
- Explore the viability of our earned-income business model.
- Identify established funding technology to use alongside Web Monetization until it's more widely adopted.
Avenues of support identified by our team:
- Connect with someone who has implemented Web Monetization in a native mobile application.
- Understand how the onboarding process to Web Monetization might change in the near future.
- Access to developers of Coil to know how to build another link/alternative.
- Connect to other nonprofit organizations interested in implementing Web Monetization/being part of follow-up studies.
- Connect with folks who started Web Monetization to hear how they address systems change challenges of pushing this idea forward.
Additional thoughts from our team:
- Accessibility of Web Monetization. The idea is amazing and could change the web. However, our research showed that very few users utilize browser extensions. Mobile users are the largest portion of the market. In addition, because mobile use requires users to download a second browsing application and then the extension, I worry that this makes it difficult for people to utilize Coil.
- Systems Change. Web Monetization & Coil are big ideas/values/experiments for an alternative system on the web. It mirrors some of the same motivations we have for Rootable. Building a system different from the one we're operating in. There are some challenges operating in an unknown space. Some lessons learned might be beneficial to one another. Recognizing we're working on a minuscule budget, while Web Monetization has a lot of money behind it.